The Top 10 Surprises of the 2011 NFL Draft

Tommy Favaloro@@BiancoNeroBlogContributor IIIApril 30, 2011

The Top 10 Surprises of the 2011 NFL Draft

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    Over the 75 years that the professional football draft has taken place, we have seen tons of surprises involving trades, slip-ups, busts and players drafted in late rounds who went on to become superstars.

    Going into the 2011 NFL Draft, the ongoing lockout situation has caused a lot of confusion as to what will happen with free agency, rookie salaries, trades, players being allowed to train in team facilities and when the season will start.

    One thing was for sure, though. Roger Goodell made it clear that the draft would take place regardless of the legal issues. College players had a choice. Go to Radio City Music Hall and shake Goodell’s hand, or stay home and watch the draft on ESPN.

    From the moment the NFL commissioner took the podium amidst the boos of the packed house in New York, the draft has provided a great prime-time event with a lot of surprises and excitement.

10. Jimmy Smith Falls into Baltimore’s Hands

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    One of the top cornerbacks in the draft, Jimmy Smith of Colorado was expected to be drafted early but surprisingly was taken at No. 27 by the Baltimore Ravens. This was mainly due to character questions that surround Smith off the field.

    He will fit in well with an aging Ravens defense that includes Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs. Jimmy Smith is a 6’2’’ cornerback, has good speed, and good ball skills. He should make Baltimore a better pass defense against good passing teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots.

9. The Prince lands in New York

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    On the heels of the royal wedding in London, New York has a prince of their own.

    Another top cornerback in the draft, Prince Amukamara dropped to No. 19 and was taken by the New York Giants. He will team up with Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas, Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle in an impressive secondary.

    With Detroit taking Nick Fairley, the Giants were in prime position to have Amukamara fall into their hands.

    Prince is already being compared to another cornerback in New York, Darrelle Revis. If he can become half the player Revis is, the Giants will be a very good defensive team.

    The Jets will take on the Giants on Christmas Eve, which should be an interesting game.

8. Da’Quan Bowers Left Out of the First Round

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    Instead of being the No. 1 pick, Clemson standout Da’Quan Bowers went 51st overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    A knee injury scared off teams and will likely cause him to have surgery within the next four years.

    The surgery will require him to miss eight months, but the Buccaneers are willing to take a gamble on the defensive lineman.

    He is an extremely talented player, but his health will be a concern throughout his professional career in Tampa Bay.

7. Jake Locker Goes to Tennessee as Second QB Taken in Draft

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    2009 was a great year for Jake Locker. He threw for 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns, leading the Huskies to their first top 25 ranking since 2003.

    Instead of declaring for the 2010 draft, however, he returned to the University of Washington for his senior year. 2010 was a down year for him and many had him as the third- or fourth-best quarterback in the 2011 draft.

    Surprisingly, Locker was taken ahead of Blaine Gabbert at No. 8 by the Tennessee Titans. Much of the decision was based on the work ethic of Locker in comparison to that of Vince Young.

    People are calling Locker the “anti-Vince Young," a tough quarterback who gives it his all every play.

    It might be a reach but the Titans needed to fill the quarterback spot given the inconsistency of Young throughout his career.

6. Aggressive New Orleans Snaps Up Mark Ingram

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    The New Orleans Saints were the most active team in the first round of 2011 NFL Draft. After taking Cameron Jordan with the 24th pick, New Orleans traded with the New England Patriots and snapped up Alabama running back Mark Ingram.

    The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner joins an already dangerous offense with the likes of Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Robert Meachem. Reggie Bush hinted that he would leave, but there is always the possibility of a 1-2 punch of Ingram and Bush.

    Lost in this draft pick is the fact that New England traded away yet another pick. After trading away their 24rd pick to the Green Bay Packers in the 2009 Draft, the Patriots let Green Bay have Clay Matthews.

    Will New England again regret trading away a draft pick and not taking Mark Ingram?

5. Nick Fairley Joins Suh in Detroit

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    How did Nick Fairley slip to No. 13? He was regarded as the No. 1 draft pick for quite some time but wound up getting passed up by 12 teams.

    At Auburn, he dominated and led the team’s defense on their way to the 2010 BCS Championship game against Oregon.

    This surprised the Detroit Lions, who simply could not pass up the opportunity to draft the defensive tackle.

    Fairley will line up next to 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh. Under defensive-minded coach Jim Schwartz, all of a sudden the Lions’ defense looks very intimidating with the two youngsters and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

    Teams now have to fear the Lions defense and try to figure out a way to get past their front line.

4. 49ers Take Aldon Smith

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    In somewhat of a confusing pick, many might have thought that Roger Goodell made a mistake when he announced a Missouri player going to San Francisco with the seventh pick.

    Instead of the star quarterback of the Tigers, the 49ers opted to go for Blaine Gabbert’s teammate, defensive end Aldon Smith.

    Not questioning the talent of Aldon Smith, San Francisco needed a quarterback and had choices with their seventh pick. Gabbert, Locker, Ponder and Dalton were all available.

    After former No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft Alex Smith has failed to live up to expectations, the 49ers could have used another quarterback.

    Instead of Gabbert, they traded up to get Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round.

3. Falcons Sell the Farm for Julio Jones

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    One of the boldest moves of the draft belongs to the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons moved up 21 spots and gave up an awful lot to the Cleveland Browns to draft Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.

    Atlanta gave up five picks, including their 27th overall pick, a 2012 first round pick, a second- and fourth-round pick this draft and a fourth-round pick next year.

    What this does is show a lot of confidence in Jones but on the flip side, puts a great deal of pressure on him. Jones was the second wide receiver picked in the draft and when Atlanta saw A.J. Green get selected by Cincinnati, they felt the need to sell the farm for this player.

    The Falcons made a statement with this pick. They have told everyone that all they need to reach that next level is another wide receiver. The 2010 NFC No. 1 seed lost to the Packers but now they have the guy they want.

    All eyes will be on Julio Jones and the high-scoring offensive of the Atlanta Falcons.

2. Blaine Gabbert to Jacksonville

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    Virtually no one expected Jacksonville to trade up to acquire a quarterback. The move to draft Gabbert at No. 10 does not show much confidence in David Garrard and will leave Coach Jack Del Rio in a tough position.

    Does he stay with Garrard, or give the rookie the job? There might be controversy in Jacksonville if this situation isn’t handled properly.

    If Gabbert does not play, the pick will be questioned as the team could have used their No. 10 pick to fill holes on defense, especially their pass defense, which finished 27th overall, allowing 341 passing yards and 22 points per game.

    Long term, Blaine Gabbert should turn out to be a good quarterback. But if Jacksonville wants to make the playoffs this season, they need to improve their defense.

1. Vikings Select Florida State QB Christian Ponder

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    It was not very surprising that Cam Newton was the first quarterback selected in the draft. The Panthers needed a quarterback to become the face of the franchise after former Notre Dame star Jimmy Clausen failed to fit that role for Carolina.

    The surprising part, however, was that the Minnesota Vikings reached for quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th pick. The Vikings seemed to panic after Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, and Jake Locker were all picked within the first 10 picks of the draft.

    Ponder is a very intelligent individual on and off-the field, but at times he has made some poor decisions at Florida State University.

    Look no further than the game he had vs. Oklahoma in September in which Ponder threw for only 113 yards and was intercepted twice en route to a 47-17 thrashing.

    Ponder will be lucky as he will have the luxury of handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson and throwing to explosive receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, given they are healthy this season.

    Still, Minnesota could have bolstered their defensive line or secondary with their first-round pick and drafted a quarterback in the second or third round.